>ELEEMOSYNARY by luna-id

>reviewed by james koh

>date: 19 may 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: the guinness theatre, the substation
>rating: ****

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.

>>>>>up, up and away

Walt Whitman once said, "Simplicity is the glory of expression." There could not be a more accurate description of the glorious, life affirming play that is ELEEMOSYNARY. This play did not rely on slick sets or elaborate costumes; it was not based on an ever-so-clever premise, or over-the-top dramatics or complicated plot lines. Instead ELEEMOSYNARY showed that the power of theatre to charm, move and captivate could be in the form of a strong, simple and well-acted story; in this case, of mother-daughter relationships that span three generations.

Written by the American Lee Blessing, the play tells the story of eccentric Dorothea, who believes in the power of the mind to transcend mere physicality, like the ability of human flight. Artie, her daughter, raised under the stifling domination of her mother, constantly runs away from home and leaves her daughter Echo in the care of Dorothea. Meanwhile, the intelligent teenage Echo, with her ability to understand words that don't sound like they belong to the English language, tries to reunite both her grandmother and mother during a national spelling bee competition.

Full of painfully true observations of familial ties, witty and clever one liners, wise insights into the intangible bonds that link mothers to their daughters and vice versa, the play gently revealed the strength of these women (like Dorothea's perseverance in living her own life in the face of familial patriarchal prejudices) and the strength they receive from one another, thereby contributing to a fuller understanding of themselves and their relation to each other. In fact, the title of the play, meaning "charitable, pertaining to alms-giving", refers to how all of them have given charitably to each other.

>>'It has to be said that the performances of the three strong women were immaculate'

ELEEMOSYNARY was a highly layered play that not only fleshed out the characters with subtle nuances and shades of complexity but also breathed such life and vigour to them that they became not just simply characters, but believable people on stage, hurting and being hurt by each other. With such a character driven play, it has to be said that the performances of the three strong women were immaculate and spot on. (It is to the credit of the actresses' total immersion into their characters that the American context and references of the play did not seem jarring at all but highly natural, such that the audience did not have to willingly suspend any of their disbelief.)

Sheila Wyatt gave a commanding performance as the idiosyncratic Dorothea, filling the small space of the Guinness Theatre with such a forceful magnitude of her personality, what with her wild hair in disarray and the blinding colours of her blouse. Part new age mama, part Earth mother, she injected her character with an earthy quality such that Dorothea's eccentricities never appeared silly or ridiculous.

Amber Simon was a revelation as the child-woman Echo. Burning with both love for her grandmother and wistful yearning for her mother, she provided the precocious child with a quiet sense of maturity. And the way she could say convoluted words with such orgasmic delight, sent goose pimples down the spines of the audience. Meanwhile, Karen Lim gave a luminous performance as the realist Artie. Her brittle exterior belied the suffering seen in the flash of her eyes, her long-suffering pain endured with a sense of quiet pathos.

Direction by Christian Huber was taut and skilful, never letting the dramatic impetus sag during the 75-minute play and choreographing the constant movement on stage with an adept use of space - a fluidity that was assisted by the precise and clever lighting. Together with the lazy Sunday afternoon jazz that was played between scenes, this was a sepia tinged reality that enchanted yet moved the audience with its emotional intensity.

ELEEMOSYNARY is luna-id's debut production and it soared with ease on its whimsical beauty. Indeed, it heralds great things to come for this fledging company.